Stop AI Stealing the Show: Why artists fear rise of synthetic performances

Stop AI stealing the show

A performing arts union is warning that work for creative artists is at risk from artificial intelligence (AI) because of the rise in synthetic performances.

There have been many policy debates about AI’s impact on the workforce. However, the performing arts industry feels it has been left out of the conversation.

Stop AI Stealing the Show is a new campaign from the performing arts union Equity. It’s aiming to shine a light on the use of AI in the creative fields and protect the rights of artists and performers amid the rapid development of automated technology.

Among the campaign’s areas of concern is synthetic AI performances. This includes automated audiobooks, interactive digital avatars, and deepfake technology.

In an interview with UKTN, Liam Budd, policy officer at Equity, said that performing arts workers are being left out of the AI conversation outlined by the government.

In September last year, the government unveiled its 10-year National AI Strategy that seeks to make Britain a global AI superpower.

“[The government] recognised that AI is playing an increasing role in artistic creativity,” said Budd. “However, specific questions about reviewing or enhancing performers’ rights were notably absent from both consultations.”

Budd described the goal of the campaign as raising awareness for “the exploitation taking place in our industry and the need to update intellectual property rights”.

He added that the campaign wants “the government to ensure that strengthening rights for creatives is a key component of the National AI Strategy. In the long term, we are campaigning to update the Copyright Act to protect performers against AI-made performance.”

The campaign produces guidance for artists and is working towards collectively bargained agreements with AI companies to protect performers’ rights and ensure they receive proper payment.

Audio artists under threat from automation

Budd told UKTN that the campaign isn’t against the technology of AI. He said: “We are supportive of innovation in our industry and believe that AI can have various benefits if it is used ethically and responsibly.

“However, there are lots of issues developing, which have become a real cause of concern.”

He warned that AI systems are increasingly taking jobs from skilled professional performers due to AI seeming like a cheaper and more convenient option.

“Audio artists are particularly concerned by the development of digital voice technology for automated audiobooks. This is created by the same technology for digital voice assistants like Siri and Alexa,” Budd said.

“It is estimated that within one to two years high-end synthetic voices will have reached human levels.”

London-based startup Papercup, which raised £16m in a funding round earlier this month, has been innovating in that very area. The company has developed AI-powered real-time audio dubbing for the translation of media using realistic-sounding voices, instead of human voice actors.

Equity has been working closely with a number of unions for the campaign, including the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.

Last month, Stop AI Stealing the Show secured a parliamentary motion entitled Artificial Intelligence in the entertainment industry.

The motion has been signed by 12 members of parliament including MPs from Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP.